The largest weapons importer

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The largest weapons importer

Korea was the world’s biggest weapons buyer in 2014, signing deals worth $7.8 billion, according to a U.S. congressional report. A Korean Ministry of National Defense official said that new contracts were mostly in high-tech weaponry and the spending had not been made in lump sum. But the top consumer position suggests Korea’s imports of weapons will continue.

The United States remained as the world’s largest weapons supplier. Of Korea’s purchases, 90 percent, or $7 billion worth, were made by U.S. companies. Due to the security alliance between the two countries, Korea inevitably relies on U.S.-made weaponry. U.S. weapons receipts surged by nearly $10 billion and controlled more than 50 percent of the global market last year largely due to multibillion-dollar contracts with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Korea.

The disproportionate supply structure has led to over-reliance on U.S. technology and may have undermined trade terms. Experts have repeatedly called for diversification in weaponry imports. But last year’s purchase record suggests the Korean defense system still hinges on U.S. technology and resources.

We can only question the Defense Ministry’s procurement strategy and negotiating capacity. The ambitious project worth 18.4 trillion won ($15.8 billion) to home-grow next-generation fighter jet program, dubbed KF-X, has hit a snag after Washington refused to transfer the core technologies.

The U.S. has been dragging its feet in compensating for the flaws in the SM-2 missile that cost 1.9 billion won for each blast. Washington has repeatedly been interfering with Korean exports of weapons. Although Seoul is the country’s biggest weaponry buyer, it is being dragged down by Washington due to poor negotiating skills.

Weaponry updates and investment is necessary in a country in a de facto state of war with North Korea. Korea’s military authorities have lost public confidence due to a series of irregularities and diplomatic incompetence. Yet Seoul does not provide details on what weapons program it spent nearly 10 trillion won on, citing strategy confidentiality. But we need a mechanism to study if such astronomical investment is necessary. Seoul must demonstrate negotiating capability and demand due respect and treatment as the world’s major weapons consumer.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 28, Page 34

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